Contemporary Dance Ensemble performs Against the Grain

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UVU’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble (CDE) put together an innovative, exciting dance performance which audience members viewed from the comforts of their own homes on March 27, 2021. 

As COVID-19 required restrictions on the ability to do a live show in front of a large group of people, CDE created an entirely virtual concert with a conglomeration of regular videography and stop motion animation to tell the stories. As a result, not only were choreographers, dancers, and light designers needed, but videographers and film editors were essential to the production as well.

“We were able to take advantage of the incredible talent of UVU’s Studio and Broadcast Services Team, and this relationship is ripe for potential opportunities in the future,” said Monica Campbell, co-director of CDE and assistant professor and chair of the Department of Dance. “With our virtual concert, we were able to reach a larger audience than with our usual live show. My sister was able to watch from London.”

The dancers were masked the entire time, which subtly commented on the impact of the coronavirus while also adding to the somber, mysterious feeling of the production. The show started off with a large group number conceived by the internationally recognized Brian Gerke, Department of Dance faculty and choreographer, where dancers moved methodically and careened across 12 patterned rugs on the stage. 

Next was a fresh, interesting piece entitled “Stay in your Frame,created entirely using stop motion animation. It was an aggregation of dancers’ still images where a rapid change of each picture occurred to create the effect of a full, nonstop movement. Sarah Donohue, UVU Dance faculty member, directed that and two other like projects that appeared in the show: “Where Empty Minds Misbehave” and “In a Forbidden Land Far, Far Away. The projects demonstrated the prompting of exciting new and innovative ideas by the COVID-19 restrictions. In between those pieces was another by choreographer Laura Brick.

One lively and engaging part of the production was a screendance that was filmed indoors and outdoors on UVU’s campus and throughout Utah County in less than 10 hours. Performers were clad in a variety of colorful clothing pieces that popped against the various backdrops, some of which were staircases, hallways and courtyards. UVU dancers and faculty were thrilled to work with Mike Esperanza, an award-winning choreographer who is located in New York City and conceived this number called “Outsiders. 

“Most of the inspiration for this piece came from current events,” said Esperanza. “Things that have affected us emotionally and the way we interact with people. I feel we have all transformed in some way or another so I wanted to illustrate this narrative through movement.”

Esperanza directed and prepared the dancers from his own apartment via Zoom. Using a storyboard to clearly communicate his vision, performers learned and executed his choreography so they could seamlessly put the video together.

“I had to rely on a dot book — a term we used in marching band and drum corps — to compose the dancers in specific spaces,” Esperanza explained. He said the process of teaching over Zoom was pretty difficult. However, Esperanza had worked previously with CDE on one other piece and feels as though the dancers are hard workers and have a good understanding of how he works. When collaborating, he said they kept the environment positive and fun. 

To end the show, all of the dancers combined to perform an intense, dreamlike piece by choreographer LajaMartin. Throughout the dance, one dancer was seen to be sleeping on a chair, and the video faded back and forth between him and the other performers dancing across the stage. The sleeping boy awoke abruptly at the final moment, revealing that he might have been dreaming all along. 

“Against the Grain” turned out to be a highly fitting name for the show since directors, dancers and choreographers needed to be innovative in the time of COVID-19 to put on such a production.

“I think the most important lesson we have learned is that no matter what, in any circumstance, dance will go on,” Campbell said. “We will always find a way to create and share and do what we love. Even if it entails learning from your living room, rehearsing and performing for hours in masks and 10-foot squares, or with no contact or touching. I think this speaks to the passion, resilience and resourcefulness of all of the School of the Arts — not just dance. We are so proud of our students and faculty.”

From their efforts came an original, engaging performance that felt contemporary and anything but conventional, going against the grain of anything seen before. 
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